Change is in the Air
The legislature put the 2017 Session into first gear this week, as committees began public hearings on bills. With Republicans now in control of the Governor’s office, the Senate and the House, look for passage of several bills that had passed the GOP controlled House and Senate in recent years, but were vetoed by then-Governor Maggie Hassan. Two of those bills cleared their first hurdle already this week: repeal of the requirement for a permit to carry a concealed weapon passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, while right to work legislation, which has its best chance of passing in many years, passed the Senate Commerce Committee. Both were 3-2 party line votes. Republicans would also like to repeal same-day voter registration and change the definition of domicile, moves they say will ensure the integrity of elections. And don’t forget the 2018-2019 Biennial Budget. Revenue estimates presented to legislators this week by various economists were very sunny, but questions about agency deficits may cloud the picture. As usual, April and May business tax revenues will be key.
The New Sheriff in Town
Along with his support for election law changes and doing away with concealed carry permits, Governor Sununu advocates core GOP policies such as reducing business taxes and trimming regulations. In his campaign, Governor Sununu pledged to spend much of his first few months in office visiting out-of-state businesses, with an eye toward convincing some to consider a move to New Hampshire. In his inaugural speech, the governor cited the ongoing opioid crisis as the state’s top priority, along with ensuring the safety of children who are under state care. He also ordered state agencies to suspend administrative rulemaking for three months and prepare a report on existing rules. The Governor said the report would either justify the necessity of individual rules, or potentially set them up for repeal.
Bills, bills, bills. Not the kind in your mailbox. The legislative kind. Democrats have offered bills to establish a state minimum wage, repeal the education tax credit, increase the tobacco tax and replace several other taxes with a state income tax. Given the Republican House and Senate majorities, the smart money would bet against all of those. Speaking of bets, there are bills addressing charitable gaming and private home poker games. For their part, in addition to the above-mentioned GOP priority bills, Republicans have offered several bills that would eliminate the Interest and Dividends tax. As always, energy policy will be front and center, with debate on everything from developing energy to transmitting it by pipe or pole, buying it, selling it, conserving it and paying for it. Governor Sununu, in his first address, said the state can and must reduce consumer energy rates. In energy policy, more than in many things, the devil is in the details.
And There’s That
Not all the bills are one-sided. Republican and Democratic sponsors have joined in bi-partisan measures to create a needle exchange program and appropriate funds for much-needed local drinking water and wastewater treatment programs. Republicans hope to find broad support for a bill to add fibromyalgia and PTSD to the list of medical conditions qualifying for the medical marijuana program. They have also filed a Senate bill that would offer relief to the state’s dairy farmers, who have been hurt by drought and falling milk prices. Democrats have again offered a bill to repeal the death penalty. Votes on that issue have been close in the past, with both support and opposition crossing party lines.
House and Senate committees will hold public hearings next week. The full Senate will meet in session on Thursday, January 19 at 10 am.